Life Long Kindergarten

Yesterday I had a wonderful conversation with my American Literature class about playing with books.  I told them that I had spent a day at the MIT media lab two summers ago, and I was impressed by Mitch Resnick and the folks there at the Media Lab because they had this great problem solving model:

Imagine=>Create =>Play=>Share=>Reflect=>Imagine

The Lifelong Kindergarten Group (which is what the folks at MIT call themselves) believes that we are at our most creative in Kindergarten when we are allowed to construct meaning for ourselves.  Imagine a city at the beach, build a sand castle with moat and village, play for a while, invite friends to play and build, think about how it could be better, imagine a new city on the beach…Or stomp through it and start over.   I asked my students how we could bring this model to the study of American Literature.   Their ideas were both complimentary and challenging.

  • They liked the fact that we don’t do the same thing every day.
  • They like the fact that there is not always an analytic essay at the end of the reading of a book.
  • They liked working on sentences yesterday – real sentences that they wrote, not to correct them but to improve their focus and sophistication, to look clearly at verb choices and parallel structure, to look at audience and intent.
  • They like different modes of response.
  • They like that everything doesn’t need to have a grade assigned to it, that they can PLAY with ideas and not set them in stone.
  • They like building on each others’ ideas.
  • They told me that I am one of a few teachers that recognizes how hard it is to focus on Friday at 2:00 and that the application of chocolate is an excellent addition to the class at that moment.

These are all exciting things that seem easy in the abstract but complex in the execution.  How is it that playing with books, words, and ideas can be so complicated?

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Paul C says:

    Hi Kate,
    I like that model for learning you provide: imagine, create, play, share, and reflect.

    One great way to energize a student writing exercise is to offer a RAFT, an acronym for Role, Audience, Format, Topic. It’s a great way for students to choose a writing assignment which interests them. That way students can take ownership of a choice they make. A teacher recently posted about a field trip and her RAFT writing options:

    All the best!

    I like the chocolate alternative too!

  2. G’morning Kate,

    It’s a rainy morning, 6:30 AM, I’m settling down to do lesson plans, and now I discover your blog–I have no idea how I missed it before.

    And now my lesson plans may not get done until midnight!

    My challenge this week was to get my low level freshmen more engaged in chemistry–we’re at a point that requires grasping some spatial concepts, and many are not yet developmentally there.

    I’m tempted to throw this at them–take a day or two talking about science in general, refocus them (refocus me), then see what happens.

    (It is, in fact, how “science” happens–we construct meaning to hone our observations, to make predictions, to grasp what we can never truly grasp. We forget this, though, then try to teach the textbook version.)

  3. Kate Tabor says:

    @Paul – thanks for the great link. I am always astonished at the value of choice for students. Too much choice and they can freeze up (after all if you can do ANYTHING, where do you start?) but student ownership of work is critical. And chocolate is always a good catalyst!

    @Michael – Thank you for your kind words and for taking the time to leave a comment. I love reading your blog. It always reminds me of the interconnections between language and science. As one of my colleagues puts it, “We are always asked to dance with the history department. Why can’t we dance with the math teachers?”

    I’ve been frustrated lately with teachers who forget about developmental differences in high school kids. In our Community Connections work we especially have to remember that some students are just not ready to make certain abstract or empathic connections. It’s then that we need to go back to the imagine-play-share-reflect model. But that is another blog post that I must write – my Thoreau reading senior who has just begun to process all the work he did with homelessness last year.

    As to your freshmen, it sounds like a good plan. I am never sorry when I take a step away from a novel and take the time to hear what they have to say about books and writing. This week we are going to “learn how to read” the history text book (at their request).

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